**Just a quick clarification – this post is not about treating children exactly the same as we treat adults in every situation. It is about treating children with respect, and reflecting on our actions and reactions when it comes to the children in our lives.**
I recently asked my 6-year-old son if he thinks most adults like children. He said no. I asked if he thinks most adults treat children fairly or with respect. He said no. I asked if he thinks adults bully children. He said yes. (He did clarify that he wasn’t talking about me, but what he has observed).
Most of us want our children to be kind, loving, fair, respectful people, yet our actions as adults tell a different story. The vast majority of adults in our society treat children as inconveniences. Children are bullied, bribed, humiliated, and tolerated on a daily basis.
You may not agree. But I challenge you to really think about how children are treated. Would you like to be treated in the way children are treated?
Take a look at these scenarios below:
– A friend comes over for a drink and chat. We are sitting together on the couch when my friend gets distracted and knocks my drink over. I scold her, telling her to be more careful, threatening to never have a drink with her on the couch again.
– During a particularly intimate moment, my partner opens up to me, revealing their vulnerability, telling me one of their biggest fears. I dismiss them, telling them that’s silly and they have no reason to be scared.
– My work colleague is tired and feeling deflated. They have had a long day, and everything is going wrong for them. They go to the staff kitchen for their favourite drink, but there is none left. Then they accidentally drop their mug and it smashes into hundreds of pieces. They fall to their knees, completely overwhelmed, and burst in to tears. Another colleague and I laugh as we patronisingly tell them they shouldn’t be so sensitive, and to stop crying.
– My house mates find it hard to get along sometimes. They live together every day, and they get angry, yell and argue from time to time. I have had enough, so I make a ‘get along’ t-shirt and tell them they must both wear it until they ‘get along’. I also take pictures of them, squashed together in the shirt. They look defeated and embarrassed. I post the picture on the internet for the whole world to see…humiliation is a powerful deterrent.
– I go out to dinner with a group of friends. We have a great time, and after our meals I offer to buy everyone ice creams. As the shop attendant passes out the cones, my friends smile with appreciation and start eating. None of them say thank you, so I take each cone from them and throw them in the rubbish bin to teach them a lesson about manners.
– My Mum asks me if I can get her glasses from the kitchen bench. I ask her why she can’t get them herself. She says she is tired. I let out an annoyed sigh and reluctantly get her glasses, telling her that she is old enough to get them herself.
– My Dad has an unusual habit of talking to himself. Sometimes people stare and laugh. I am concerned about him, so take him to the Doctor. The Doctor, his assistant, and I discuss my father’s sometimes embarrassing habit in every detail, right in front of him, occasionally we make a joke, or look at him with concern. He can hear everything we are saying, but we do not include him in the conversation. I also post a video of him talking to himself on the internet (without his consent) to get other people’s opinions. It doesn’t cross my mind that the internet is forever, and my Dad might not appreciate his personal issues available for all to see.
– I care for my elderly grandfather. He is unable to walk or speak, and needs help with many daily tasks. During the day I obligingly help him with what he needs. But night-time is a different story. I bathe him, help him with his evening meal, put an adult nappy on him, and say goodnight. If he cries out for me during the night I ignore him until morning. He couldn’t possibly need anything from me that can’t wait until morning. He needs to learn how to cope on his own at night.
In these scenarios I’m a bit of a jerk right? A bully. Disrespectful, rude, patronising, unfair and unreasonable; sometimes just plain mean, and even cruel. This kind of behaviour is no way to treat another human being. And yet, for some reason, this is seen as a normal and acceptable way to treat children. Why? Because they aren’t adults yet? Because they are kids and haven’t reached some arbitrary age, so we can treat them like they aren’t people with real feelings?
I’m not perfect, I have been the adult in some of these scenarios with my own children. And, I have been the child in these scenarios in times past too. I’m sure we all have. Because so often, our society doesn’t really treat children as people, and this belief gets passed on from generation to generation. We have all been bullied, humiliated, talked over and laughed at by adults in our life. And so have our parents, and theirs and on and on. And it feels really shitty to be that child.
Some may argue that children are ‘acting out’ or ‘naughty’ or ‘difficult’, and so need to be treated this way so their behaviour changes. But adults forget, that children are not adults. Yes, they can act in ways that are frustrating, confusing or exasperating to us, but they are still so young. Their brains are still developing, and they are not capable of acting in all the appropriate or ‘right’ ways yet. They still have so much to learn….from us.
The idea that children must earn our respect, and are ours to be trained and moulded, and tolerated until they act appropriately, or reach some capricious age, is harmful. It is putting conditions on your relationship. It only serves to push them away, make them fearful, angry, confused, and eventually repeat the same behaviour with those who are smaller, slighter, vulnerable.
Children learn from what we do, so let’s break the cycle, and set a better example. If we stuff up (and we will), apologise and keep going. Let’s treat them how we would like to be treated, because, in the words of Dr Seuss, “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”